NASHVILLE — It’s over.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have become the first team in 20 years to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons, beating the Nashville Predators in the championship series four games to two.
Pittsburgh’s core group of players, team captain Sidney Crosby among them, have now reached hockey immortally. Since 2008, they have won the Cup three times in four Final appearances. No one has captured the trophy in consecutive years in the salary cap era. It is the fifth Stanley Cup the team has won in their 50 year history.
“He’s the heartbeat of this hockey team,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby before the game, declining to go on his usual soliloquy about how Crosby is one of the best and most dedicated players ever to suit up in the NHL.
On Sunday night, Crosby became just the third player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe trophy two years in a row. He finished this year’s playoffs with 27 points, more than any of player. Crosby now has more points in the Final than any player in Penguins history. His seven points in 2017 championship round outpaced everyone.
Despite two general mangers and four head coaches, the Crosby-captained Penguins keep winning, with different systems, personnel changes, and even a new arena.
The Crosby-era Penguins are a dynasty.
There was hope here for a Game Seven. In this arena, fans had already been screaming for the better part of an hour by the time the Predators skated through a giant saber-toothed monster, its eyes glowing a menacing yellow. From the makeshift press box nestled in the stands among over 17,000 fans at Bridgestone Arena, your correspondent could feel his eardrums being damaged. An estimated 100,000 watched outside in nearly 90º heat. The noise inside killed any chance you could avoid a headache Sunday night.
The first period was a sleepy affair to start, quite a feat when you are in an arena that rivals an aircraft carrier takeoff in decibels. The game was even and uneventful until the Penguins began pressuring Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, whose goaltending in the series has fluctuated as much as Greg Gianforte’s recollection of body slams.
Both teams pressed late, but their goalies, Rinne and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murry were strong, only getting better in the second.
Early in the period, however, Predators top line center Colton Sessions appeared to poke an uncovered puck into the net after Filip Forsberg ripped a shot on goal. But official Kevin Pollock blew the play dead early. It was a bad call, but far from the Predators only chance to put the Penguins on their heels.
Nashville managed two power plays in the first two periods, which resulted in zero shots on goal. Their power play went 0-4 in the game.
Meanwhile, the Preds managed a few breakaways and odd-man rushes, that were either flubbed or eliminated by the Penguins and their speed.
With the Stanley Cup hiding somewhere in a maze of concrete hallways at ice event, there was still no indication of whether or not the Penguins would take home the most famous trophy in sports for almost the entire game.
They did — off a single rush by Patrick Hornqvist with just 95 seconds remaining. Carl Hagelin added an empty-net tally with 14 ticks left.
The Penguins did it again. It was not pretty, but hockey rarely is.
Headline photo: @b_therightclub
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